Fit to Be Tried: What Does It Take for a Brand to Get healthy?

SAN FRANCISCO When your brand is famous for Velveeta prepared pasteurized cheese products, it can be a substantial leap to call yourself a healthy living company. Kraft Foods, however, is doing just that. In adjusting to rising consumer interest in healthy living and the national outcry over childhood obesity, it launched a program—being used as an anchor for its message—called Sensible Solutions. Launched in 2005, it’s marked, literally, by a green Sensible Solutions flag, which appears on the labels of more than 500 selected Kraft products. Last April, Kraft expanded the effort with an ongoing online and offline marketing campaign.

Many other brands are also feeling pressure from both federal regulators, who are scrutinizing food advertising to children, and from consumers, who are focusing on weight control and healthy living, says Jim Holbrook, CEO of EMAK Worldwide, a marketing services consortium.

Consumers worldwide identified health as their major concern in a survey by AC Nielsen in July 2006. In the U.S., consumers were most concerned about fat and calorie content of products, the survey indicated. So it’s not surprising that brands from McDonald’s to Coca-Cola to Mars are launching and marketing new product lines with health-oriented messages and purpose. Kraft, on the other hand, is repositioning its brand mainly using existing products such as Crystal Light Lemonade drink, Louis Rich Turkey Bacon and sugar-free Jell-O (as well as a small number of new ones).

All established companies joining the health bandwagon should note that in the quest for healthy living, consumers want their brands to act as positive coaches, not know-it-alls, according to a July 2007 report by EMAK and Bigheads Network, a consumer research agency.

That supportive role formed the strategy behind the Kraft labeling program, says Laurie Hirsch, Kraft senior director, global health and wellness. To reinforce the labeling, the revamped Sensible Solutions microsite (kraftfoods.com/kf/healthyliving/sensible solutions) offers healthy recipes, nutritional information, lists of Sensible Solution Kraft products and a search engine. Most popular are the recipes and interactive search tool, says Hirsch. Kraft is promoting the program and site with PR and print ads, and will add radio this fall.

According to the EMAK report, three steps are essential in a brand effectively repositioning itself as a healthy living coach. The first is to create healthy living platforms that are flexible and easily fit into consumers’ established lives. The study points to the Jenny Craig eating plan that talks about occasional treats and Amstel Light beer’s emphasis on its imported taste.

“It is important for brands to give people room to make their own choices,” states Holbrook, who is lead author of the study. The idea that “Hey, we’re trying” resonates with people, he adds.

Secondly, the brand’s packaging, message and the retail locations where customers find it must present a consistent healthy living message, according to the report. The package should not oversell the health message with bright and glaring graphics and should “look healthy” by using things such as recycled paper. Products should avoid overpackaging and the merchandise should also be in places where other healthy products are found, such as Whole Foods stores or the upscale nutrition sections of chain stores. Health messaging can be reinforced with references to credible outside sources on the package and in marketing. One example, notes the study, is Mars’ CocoaVia chocolate bar wrappers that refer to research from the American Heart Association.

For Kraft, the marketing for Sensible Solution products states that foods have met nutritional criteria from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Academy of Sciences.

Healthy eating messages appear to be resonating with consumers, according to a poll by Harris Interactive. The April 2006 survey found that consumers rely on ingredient lists and nutritional labels a great deal when selecting their purchases. A quarter of the adults in the Harris poll said the nutritional facts panel is the second most important factor for them when purchasing a food or beverage. The first factor is price. “Manufacturers need to take this … into account when developing packaging,” says Anne Aldrich, svp at Harris Interactive.

The third step is inviting customers to improve the product. Consumers are not looking to brands to solve all their problems; rather they want their brands to be inclusive, according to the study. For instance, brands as varied as Cheerios cereal and the Nintendo Wii video game console are “empowering children to be the advocates for healthy living in the family,” per the study. Cheerios, for instance, has a TV spot in which a young child hides Cheerios in his father’s briefcase, car and pockets. And Wii has spots featuring games in which the goal is to swing, jump or move in order to succeed, according to the report, which is “exercise disguised as fun that the whole family can participate in.” In the case of Kraft, the company’s radio campaign this fall will ask listeners for their ideas about how to swap out ingredients in their favorite recipes for Kraft Sensible Solution alternatives.

Holbrook says it is just a matter of time until healthy living products seem more interesting and innovative than the alternative. He point’s to Kraft’s Crystal Light as a product that “tells me that I am smarter than my friends when I use it.”